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Catalonia leader Puigdemont ‘unclear’ on independence – Spain


Catalonia leader Puigdemont 'unclear' on independence – Spain

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Media captionEurope correspondent Gavin Lee looks to the past for the origins of the Catalan crisis

The Spanish government has said that the head of the Catalonia region has failed to clarify whether he declared independence last week.

In a letter to Madrid on Monday, Carles Puigdemont instead called for negotiation over the next two months.

Spain's Deputy PM Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Mr Puigdemont now has until Thursday to clarify his position.

The Spanish government has warned that Catalonia must revoke the declaration or face direct rule from Madrid.

Last week Mr Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence, but halted its implementation to allow negotiations.

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Ms Saenz de Santamaria said on Monday that Madrid "deeply regrets" that the Catalan government had "decided not to respond" to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's request for clarity on the region's independence decision.

Speaking at the official residence of the Spanish prime minister, the Moncloa Palace, she said that any future dialogue between Madrid and Catalonia's regional government must take place "within the law".

Ms Saenz de Santamaria added that the Spanish government's handling of the Catalonia crisis was widely backed in the Spanish parliament.

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Image caption Ms Saenz de Santamaria said it was regrettable that Mr Puigdemont had "decided not to respond"

Spain's Justice Minister Rafael Catalá earlier said that Mr Puigdemont's response to the Madrid deadline was "not valid", Spanish news agency Efe reported.

Mr Catalá said the letter had failed to clarify Catalonia's position or explain what measures Mr Puigdemont's regional government was planning in order to fulfil Madrid's demands.

Catalonia's controversial independence referendum result, which was immediately rejected by the Spanish government, has plunged Spain into turmoil.

The vote, held on 1 October, was declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court.

Catalan authorities said that slightly fewer than 90% of voters backed independence, although the turnout for the poll was only 43%.

Polling day was marred by scenes of violence as Spain's police confiscated ballot boxes and attempted to prevent members of the public entering polling stations.

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In a letter to Mr Rajoy on Monday, Mr Puigdemont said his "suspension of the political mandate given by the polls on 1 October demonstrates our firm will to find a solution and not confrontation".

"For the next two months, our main objective is to bring you to dialogue," he said, asking for a meeting as soon as possible.

"Let's not let the situation deteriorate further. With good will, recognising the problem and facing it head on, I am sure we can find the path to a solution."

Article 155 of the country's constitution allows the government to impose direct rule in a crisis – but it has never been invoked in democratic Spain.

Some 4,000 national police who were dispatched to Catalonia during the crisis have remained there since polling day.

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